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Air New Zealand plane turned back from China for referring to Taiwan as country

Air New Zealand plane forced to turn back from Shanghai after referring to Taiwan as country in paperwork

Air New Zealand aircraft.

Air New Zealand aircraft. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- An Air New Zealand flight bound for Shanghai was forced to turn back on Saturday (Feb. 9) by Chinese authorities because it referred to Taiwan as a country, reported Stuff.

Air NZ flight 289, which was bound for Shanghai, was forced to turn back to Auckland after several hours in the air because Chinese authorities deemed that its application to land in China contained wording that indicated Taiwan is an independent country, according to sources cited by Stuff.

The issue reportedly involved documentation from New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority, which had been included with Air New Zealand's application to enable the plane to make a landing in China. The source told the news site that the Chinese were "very explicit" about what they wanted the wording to be, but it apparently had yet to be addressed by the time the plane was in the air.

The source indicated that the airline may not have taken the political stance or "cast a political lens" that the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAA) was wanting to see regarding Taiwan's status in the documentation.

When asked to comment on the matter during a press conference on Monday, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the plane was "improperly temporarily deployed, failed to obtain destination permission, and took the independent decision to return while in flight."

Air New Zealand announced on Feb. 22 last year that it would begin offering direct flights between Auckland and Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport beginning on Nov. 1. Saturday was the first time a plane from the route, which is being serviced by a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, had attempted to fly to Shanghai.

When asked to comment on the issue by the news agency, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern denied that it was an indication of strained relations between China and her country, and was instead due to administrative issues. She conceded that China and New Zealand have a "complex relationship" which has "its challenges." At no point did she mention Taiwan or its status as a country.

As to when she would be visiting Beijing, Ardern failed to give a specific date. Ardern had received an invitation to visit the communist country to meet Premier Li Keqiang last year, however the invitation was put on ice after New Zealand's chief spy agency, the GCSB, decided to nix plans to allow Huawei to build the country's 5G network, according to Otago Daily Times.

When asked about the status of the Huawei 5G contract, she said that data and security were the most important considerations, emphasizing that "it's not about vendor, it's not about country."

Air New Zealand apologized for the inconvenience experienced by its customers and was "deeply disappointed and frustrated by the situation," reported AP. The airline said that all passengers have since been able to arrive in Shanghai via other flights.

The incident marks yet another arbitrary move by Beijing to impose its ideology upon foreign companies, following the CAA order on April 24 of last year that forced airlines to refer to Taiwan as part of China on their websites, which the U.S. White House called "Orwellian nonsense." A total of 44 airline companies relented to Chinese pressure and made adjustments to how Taiwan was labeled.